rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Patriotism and nationalism in art: 10 years after 9/11

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Patriotism is defined as a "love of one's country." Nationalism is a more complex thing, referring I suppose to one's nationhood, as distinct from one's homeland. It's a topic explored in the new show at MOCCA in Toronto, which opened on Friday, days before the anniversary of September 11, 2001.


ANTUAN, Left or Right, (detail). Image: mocca.ca

Titled Patria o Liberdad! On Patriotism, Immigration and Populism, it is a collection of video art that aims, according to curator Paco Barragan, to address "the complexities of the concept of "nationalism" in a moment in which national identities are being either severely put into question or impetuously vindicated."

Jen DeNike
Jen DeNike, Flag Girls, 2007. Image: smith-stewart.com

In his catalogue essay, Barragan proposes "the analogy of "nationalism" with "bad patriotism", and "good patriotism" as a personal sentiment or love for your roots, language, family etc, that is intimate, not obligatory nor prescriptive..." Essentially, he equates "good patriotism" with love of one's ethnocultural heritage, and "bad patriotism" with nationalism.

Sometimes it makes me wonder what I fought for
Still from Sometimes it makes me wonder what I fought for, Katri Walker, 2009. Image: VoCA

Sometimes it makes me wonder what I fought for
Still from Sometimes it makes me wonder what I fought for, Katri Walker, 2009. Image: VoCA

I'm not sure I agree with his definition. As is explained HERE, one can also consider patriotism as a love for one's country and consider nationalism in the cultural or ethnic sense of the word.

I would love to think that in Canada (and much more so in the United States) the two might coexist: patriotism as a love of one's adopted country, while nationalism as a love for one's ethnocultural heritage. And they do co-exist among some people. And not for others -- Quebec and the separatist movement is one example. It's a complicated topic and his essay is worth reading HERE.

Ivan Candeo
Still from Ivan Candeo, Inertia, 2009. Image: VoCA

In fact, I enjoyed the essay more than the show itself. To me, the curating felt heavy-handed with little space for the viewer to think. Women unfurling out of an early American flag, courtesy of American artist Jen DeNike; a piece by Cuban artist Antuan showing a man punching bags printed with the faces of various world leaders (Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Osama bin Laden, George Bush...); Ivan Candeo's Inertia, showing a cyclist on a treadmill in front of a mural of in front of a mural of Bolívar ...These were balanced by some more moving piece, particularly Sometimes it makes me wonder what I fought for, by Katri Walker, an intimate study of Jimmy Redpath, an ex-Blackwatch Paratrooper.

A politically-charged show that presented a number of perspectives on a sensitive topic, it asked the viewer for a point of view, while not making it easy -- the entire show was video, most of which required headphones.

The exhibition, which has toured to Miami and Amsterdam, will travel to the Stenersen Museum in Oslo next. I wonder how the exhibition locations affect the show's reception, particularly with Miami and Amsterdam's fraught relationship to immigrants. A show like this depends on its context -- it says as much about the viewer as about the exhibition itself.

Complimenting the show nicely was a fantastic video by the gallery's entrance, in a screening room sponsored by the National Gallery of Canada. I had seen this work by the excellent polish artist Artur Zmijewski, at Documenta in Kassel, Germany several years ago. Titled THEM, 2007, it documents a group of people brought together in a craft workshop to create images of a 'symbolic centre' of Poland. Their clashing ideologies come into play until the ‘artwork' is burned and eventually thrown out the window.

Artur Zmijewski

Still from Artur Zmijewski THEM, 2007. Image: VoCA

Artur Zmijewski

Still from Artur Zmijewski THEM, 2007. Image: VoCA

Artur Zmijewski

Still from Artur Zmijewski THEM, 2007. Image: VoCA

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.